Skip to comments.PBS, CNN not so artful as dodgers Execs can't spit out answers to critics
Posted on 07/15/2003 4:54:48 PM PDT by churchillbuff
By Tim Goodman, Chronicle TV Critic Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Hollywood -- ... Nobody likes a dodge. ... Giving a non-answer, avoiding confrontation, failure to admit the truth, spewing bland verbiage in an effort to put us to sleep -- those are the worst offenses. ... CNN just flat out refuses to admit that it's getting its head handed to it by Fox News. This denial is ceaseless. Look, Fox News is pummeling CNN. It's not even a fight anymore. It's a bludgeoning. In the Nielsens universe, which governs all of television -- even news -- CNN can't beat Fox News. The latter is probably the best at understanding what a certain segment of the cable news audience seems to want -- news with a slant. Forget fair and balanced -- that's a slogan for people who believe the news media are biased toward the left. It's a message that caters to and comforts them. There's a term for that:
We no longer live in a world where everyone believes that the news media have no agenda. Objectivity seems antiquated as the level of jadedness in the public rises. The lines between opinion and news have been blurred for too long -- a blame shared by everyone in cable news. But CNN is still viewed as an entity attempting real journalism. Most journalists appreciate that.
And yet, news flash -- it's not a ratings winner.
So, Jim Walton, president of the CNN News Group and a longtime CNN throwback seen in journalistic circles as someone who is dismantling the glitzy star system of his predecessor, had a great opportunity to come in here and say, "Yes, Fox is beating us. But we're in different businesses entirely."
Instead, he couldn't even say his competitor's name, choosing instead to imply that CNN was Rolex and Fox News was Timex. He blathered on about quality and brand and God knows what else. It was a dodge, plain and simple. Everything was a dodge. At that moment, a good portion of the room would have paid anything to have Roger Ailes from Fox News come in and beat the snot out of CNN, at least verbally, as he's wont to do.
Walton, pressed hard about CNN's love affair with the Laci Peterson story, couldn't even tell the truth and say, "Yeah, you know, we maybe spend too much time on it. That's how cable news channels get ratings, and it's a tough game, and we'll take a look at the percentage of our time covering that story."
That's all he had to say. But he didn't. A little truthfulness goes a long way. What CNN needs to understand is that if it wants to claim that journalism is the only important thing and that ratings don't matter, fine. Then do journalism. Don't saturate the airwaves with one salacious story in an effort to get ratings. Stand up for what you believe in. Don't try to play it both ways. Get a game plan, for God's sake. Fox News has one. Maybe that's why it can articulate what it's all about. All Walton did is demonstrate that CNN doesn't know its own story.
PBS has a similar problem. For the most part, it creates fine programming, the kind that TV critics would love to champion. But PBS hasn't learned that it's in a competitive environment. No longer is the business so starkly simple that one can say, "We make quality programming, and everyone else airs garbage. " The fact is, cable channels do much of what PBS does, equally well, and market it better. The disadvantage for PBS is that the system it operates under is a gigantic mess -- the local stations wag the dog and always have. The government helps fund the system, annoying detractors who think some of PBS' news shows or documentaries are either biased or creatively unworthy. Local channels need to beg for money in pledge periods, using cheesy programming that does not reflect normal PBS programming but rakes in dollars - - confounding the idealized notion of the system as a whole and bugging the bejesus out of critics.
On top of that, PBS programs right into the teeth of the network schedule and can't for the life of it figure a way out of that buzz saw -- despite 200 critics trying to program the system for Mitchell and chief scheduler John Wilson every time the two groups meet here on press tour. This results in yelling matches that make everyone involved angry (and, given that it goes on year after year, bored). Every year we ask why they put their best stuff up against the networks (resulting in less coverage on our part), and every year PBS says ratings don't really matter and, besides, the system is working just fine.
But it's not. It's hopelessly broken. Only an insane person would try to run PBS.
That person is Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of PBS.
She is a nice woman who seems tireless in her effort to make PBS better and have it run more efficiently and effectively. People who know her say those things, at least. In front of the critics, the message is somehow lost. You know where? In a dodge. She sits onstage with Wilson and Jacoba Atlas -- the latter two share the same title, senior vice president and co-chief program executive -- which is sooooo PBS it makes you want to vomit.
The three of them can't form a declarative sentence to save their lives. At least Mitchell believes that the vehement anger directed at PBS is a sign that critics really have a passion for the programming. That's mostly true. We wouldn't be there yelling at them if we didn't think the dysfunctional disaster that is PBS is something worth changing, if for nothing else than Ken Burns and others getting a chance to continue turning out brilliant work.
At each press tour, we all gather in a room and they begin trying to hypnotize us with meandering, polite, politically correct PBS-talk. We say, hey, we'd write about your shows more often if they weren't drawing a tiny fraction of what everyone else in the free world is watching. And yes, out of our duty to write about quality and to dig up gems, you do get ink. But you'd get a lot more of it if Suze Orman weren't dominating pledge periods and most of your best shows weren't competing with vastly more popular fare. Besides, the "quality" card can only be played so many times -- there are plenty of great educational fare, documentaries and PBS-like material elsewhere on the dial.
Mitchell's response? Dodging. She probably thinks she's answering, but in effect she's merely talking. If we had real answers -- even blunt ones like, "We think we're doing it right, period and next question" -- then maybe this painful dance would end. But Mitchell and company talk, and we try to find out what they're doing to fix the problems they so willingly say exist, and yet, nothing. There's a word for this: maddening.
Maybe CNN and PBS have flaws they can't bring themselves to talk about honestly. Maybe they haven't done the painful self-analysis that it takes to move forward in this interview-therapy thing we're both participating in. Maybe we critics are just plain wrong and CNN and PBS are both great -- couldn't be better.
Sometimes it's not easy giving tough love to people you like. But there's no dodging this: CNN is in denial and PBS is flat-out broken.
E-mail Tim Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Excerpt) Read more at sfgate.com ...
See that good looking dude on the left? He's got FAR BETTER THINGS to do than conduct Freepathons! Come on, let's get this thing over with.
This is where CNN is really in denial. They can't admit that they are a victim of their own biases.
I'm not going to pretend that FOX is "fair and balanced". But, as long as CNN and every one of FOX's detractors continue to deny their own bias, their ratings are going to erode further.
Fox arose to meet a market requirement: news that was free of liberal spin. However, they swung the pendulum all the way to a conservative spin.
If CNN (and NPR/ABC/CBS/NBC) were to look themselves in the mirror and honestly admit they are projecting their own liberal bias in their choice of news stories and selective reporting of facts, it would be a start.
They could bring viewers back with objective and complete news reports free of any political agenda. But, that effort starts in their own newsroom. Bashing FOX news doesn't solve their root problem.
ROTFLMAO! By whom, the ever vigilent dope smokin', lying, deceptive, Bush bashing, leftist?
Where was the "humor" alert on this post?
As for FOX not being "balanced", it certianly is balanced when comparing the population and what they think vs. what the media usually feeds us.
Unfortunatly, even some here have bought into the leftist notion that FOX is conservativly biased. It is, only in comparison with CNN.
This guy has answered his own question, and he doesn't even know it. Even though he understands exactly what Fox News is doing, and why it works, he's still under the illusion as the CNN people themselves are that CNN is not doing exactly the same thing.
He thinks Fox is slanting the news for a certain segment, and he's right. But he imagines that CNN is not slanting the news, which tells us that he has not read The Tao of Marketing. Fox cannot do what Fox is doing unless CNN is just as slanted in the opposite direction. He doesn't see the slant, because he's as liberal as the weenies running CNN. CNN looks "objective" to him, while Fox looks like a bunch of right-wing crazy people.
He sort of understands this, because he says that 'Fair and Blanced' is, "a slogan for people who believe the news media are biased toward the left." He then dismisses them as idiots or cranks, instead of taking the next step and realizing that to all the people watching Fox, Fox looks objective and CNN looks like a bunch of left-wing crazy people.
The reason CNN is falling on its butt is not that they are objective, it's that they are as slanted as Fox is but they're trying to pretend otherwise, which makes them boring. Where does a poor liberal have to go to get some red meat? Here's this liberal news network. It tells him every day that Bush sucks and that the Democrats shall rise again... which is exactly what he wants to hear. Except that their delivery is so deadpan that it puts him to sleep. Here is some great liberal red meat, but they have it so tenderized and cauterized and homogenized that it's no fun.
And that's because the whole CNN building is full of liberals who think the stuff they're telling people is some sort of Revealed Truth, instead of what it is: the pile of press releases and talking points that were left behind after Fox picked the ones they wanted. Here's the press release from the Green Weenies, here's what Kim Gandy had to say today about why men are scum, here's Daschle expressing sadness and concern... it's all great stuff that liberals would salivate over if the guy reading it had some energy on it. But he doesn't. Snoooooooooze.
I was trying to be "objective" there (heh heh) and admit that while nothing liberals do is going to excite me, there does exist such a thing as "liberal red meat" that fires up liberals. Michael Moore and Howard Dean seem to have broken that code; why can't CNN?
The humorlessness angle is absolutely true. If science ever figured out a way to put John Kerry's face on Ralph Nader, you would have a thing that could empty a comedy club from a half-mile away.
1) This guy actually believes that the 4 other networks haven't been spouting liberal propaganda for the past 5 decades. I guess you are correct, he is so trapped in his own ideological dreamworld that he can't see the truth. I'm reminded of the NYC intellectual who said after the '72 election: "this isn't possible, everyone I know voted for McGovern"
2) PBS is a failure for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it is essentially a socialist organization. And I am not referring to its politics (though that certainly is socialistic) but rather its actual organizing principles. It is essentially an arm of the state. So it operates with an efficiency somewhere between that of the US Post Office and Soviet agriculture. If that isn't poetic justice, then I don't know what is.
3) Notice the "don't cry for me Argentina" BS that he alludes to when he laments that CNN is failing because it sticks to "objective news" while the clueless American masses just want Roman Coliseum stuff over on Fox. In other words, he is saying essentially: "In a just and sane America, everyone would watch the honest, unbiased news over on CNN, but we elite lefties are stuck in a nation full of rightwing rednecks.....oh the inhumanity of it all!".
4) Last, but not least, I honestly believe that one of the biggest problems that the left is having in TV news and talk radio (ie: they can't find the great white hope = liberal rush limbaugh) is that they've dumbed down their base so effectively. The libs have been gutting education and culture for so many years ("whole language", "black studies", etc) they've turned their various mass constituency groups into dependent, drug-addled wastrels. Now, lo and behold, they can't find a significant audience of people willing to listen to issue-oriented lefty programming. The broad, conservative middle america is impassioned about ideas and tunes into political programming. Outside of the academic lefties, the democrat-voting rabble generally watch MTV or Jerry Springer...which doesn't leave a big group to draw from for that lefty Rush that they are always praying for.
Your point about liberal television being more boring because it is not (usually) written with activist language is right, though. This fact is what causes people like Eric Alterman to assert that there few large news organizations are liberal. In a way, it's correct. There really are more outlets devoted to giving the conservative perspective of the news than liberal ones.
But what Alterman and those who think like him fail to understand is that just because a media outlet is not activist, does not mean that it is unbiased or "centrist." This is why the largest news organizations commonly referred to as "mainstream" can target the apolitical but also engage in biased reporting.
As far as bias at CNN and Fox goes, it's definitely true that bias exists at Fox News. Some of its shows are conservatively biased, but others (like Brit Hume's) are more politically neutral.
Any smart person who works in the television business knows it is liberally dominated. It's just politically incorrect to talk about it. This is why CBS News president Andrew Heyward told Bernard Goldberg that he'd deny ever admitting liberal bias, while at the same time denouncing FNC repeatedly for tilting rightward.
In the eyes of many TV people, to admit liberal bias is to acknowledge that their many critics have a point. This is antithetical to their elitist nature. At least that seems to be the viewpoint of some of the people we've talked to.
But not the print media, which, this author apparently implies, are completely objective and unbiased.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.